Beliefnet
Now that we are knee-deep in another election year, the rhetoric of abortion rights and wrongs is being mouthed by the candidates and their attendant talking heads. And again the "debate" takes on the sound of a Jerry Springer show or big-time wrestling--polarized, bombastic, cartoonish, sad--as we are pulled and pushed into the warring camps of the pro-This or pro-Thaters.

I have a daughter and three sons. I'm in favor of Life, in favor of Choice. Life is not easy. Neither is Choice. My daughter and sons are biologically prepared and equipped for reproduction. Here are their choices as I see them: Each can choose whether or not, with whom, and where, when, and why, to be sexually active. They can choose how much or how little meaning sex has, how much or how little of themselves to invest. They can choose what if any precaution to take against an unplanned pregnancy. But should such preventions fail--if they impregnate or are impregnated--the available choices, up till now commensurate, diverge according to gender lines.

If reproductive choice--the choice as to when one is ready, willing and able to parent--is a good thing, wouldn't it be good for my sons as well?

My daughter may choose to have the baby with or without the consent, cooperation, or co-parenting of the fellow (shall we call him the father now?) who impregnated her. Or she may choose, in light of her life's circumstances, to avail herself of what the courts have declared is her constitutionally guaranteed right to a safe and legal medical procedure that terminates her pregnancy, voids her maternity, aborts the viability of whatever it is inside her womb. No permission or approval is necessary beyond her willingness to exercise her choice. Whatever discomfort--moral or personal or maternal--she might feel does nothing to change the fact that she has acted within her constitutional rights. A pregnancy that resulted from bilateralconsent is legally undone by unilateral choice.

If we uphold my daughter's choice in the matter, we are said to be pro-choice. If we consider the contents of her womb to have a life and interest of its own and that my daughter's choices end where those interests begin, we are said to be pro-life. Either way, we get to choose which team we're on, which side we take, which sign to carry in the endless debate.

But if reproductive choice--the choice as to when one is ready, willing, and able to parent--is a good thing, wouldn't it be good for my sons as well? And if that choice may be exercised after conception, as it currently is by women, then shouldn't men have the same option: to proclaim, legally and unilaterally, the end of their interest in the tissue or fetus or baby (depending on one's team affiliations)?

According to law, paternity, once determined, means fiscal responsibility for 18 years. There is currently, for my sons, no choice in the matter. If they impregnate and the woman chooses to have the child, she has a legal claim against the income of the father. They may, of course, refuse to pay, refuse their paternity, in which case they are "deadbeat dads" or some other media-made word for no good.

But if their sister can choose, unilaterally, to void her maternity, and abort her parental role as a matter of a constitutionally protected choice, why shouldn't my sons have an equivalent choice--say, within the first two trimesters--to declare their decision not to parent, to void their paternity, notwithstanding whatever the impregnated woman does? Isn't this precisely the same choice given to women by Roe v. Wade?

Still, pregnancy and abortion, some will argue, are women's issues, concerning a woman's body. "It's none of your business," I am sometimes told. "Once men can get pregnant, then you can talk!" Is it really all about wombs, then? Is biology destiny, after all?

Is it the species or the gender that reproduces? Aren't pregnancy and parenting human issues? I know they were when my sons and daughter were "expected." Their mother was "expecting." So was I. And while a woman's body is certainly involved in her maternity, a man's is involved in his paternity. Women may choose legally to evict the fetus from their wombs because their right to privacy includes dominion over their bodies and the bodies inside them. But do we not ask men for 18 years of work and toil, their body's "labor" in support of the baby born of their loins? If they refuse, which too many do, we do not call it a privacy issue; we call them scoundrels.

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